BY RICHARD STRADLING
The widening of US. 401 north of Raleigh has resumed, as contractors for the N.C. Department of Transportation begin clearing trees to add lanes to a six-mile stretch from the Rolesville Bypass into Franklin County.
NCDOT began widening U.S. 401 north of Raleigh in 2001, starting with a small section in Louisburg. Two miles from Mitchell Mill Road in Raleigh to Rolesville came next in 2010, followed by the Rolesville Bypass, which in 2015 carried the highway around town.
But from there, the four-lane divided highway narrows to two lanes just north of N.C. 96. Because of competing priorities, the N.C. Department of Transportation never had the money to widen 401 all at once and has been doing it in stages, said Joey Hopkins, the division engineer.
Now work has begun to add two lanes and a median from N.C. 96 to Flat Rock Church and Clifton Pond roads, near Triangle North Executive Airport in Franklin County. State and local officials kicked off the $37.8 million project Tuesday with a ceremony at a tobacco warehouse in the airport’s industrial park.
Gary Cunard, chair of the 401 Citizens Action Committee, recalled his group’s 10-year effort to get the state to widen the highway in Franklin County. He said safety was the main motivation.
“We had seen a lot of our friends and neighbors and strangers injured and killed on what was a dangerous, over-utilized, somewhat antiquated two-lane highway,” Cunard said.
But economic development was also a goal. While some county residents are happy to have the Triangle keep its distance, others have watched how a four-lane U.S. 1 has helped bring housing and commercial and industrial development to the Youngsville area and hope for some of the same on the Louisburg side of the county.
“Reaching almost to the doorstep of this airport and industrial park, 401 will be a clear signal to industry that Franklin County is indeed open for business,” said Lucy Allen, a former state House member who was mayor of Louisburg for 16 years.
Work on the widening project began Sept. 1. Orange and white barrels line the highway, and trees cleared to make way for the new lanes are stacked in enormous piles. This stretch of U.S. 401 is still lined mostly with farms and forests.
But people and businesses have been moving north along the highway, as the Triangle’s economy grows. Rolesville has been the fastest-growing town in North Carolina since 2010, doubling its population to 7,666 in 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The new lanes of U.S. 401 are expected to be completed by the end of 2022. That leaves another 4.5 miles of the highway to widen from the airport into Louisburg. NCDOT expects to have the money to begin that work in 2024.
Article Source: News & Observer